Far too often, Pennsylvania workers who get hurt on the job find out that their employers do not carry workers’ compensation insurance. To protect against this, in 2006, Pennsylvania lawmakers created the Uninsured Employers Guaranty Fund (“UEGF”) to help these injured workers with payment of wage loss and medical benefits. Unfortunately, the UEGF was not properly funded when it was created, and, as a result, payment of the much-needed benefits have been delayed or never paid.
Senate Bill 676, a companion to the recently proposed reimplementation of Pennsylvania’s Impairment Rating Evaluation (IRE) procedures, would increase funding to the UEGF by more than doubling the assessments paid by workers’ compensation insurers. This provision would be a welcome change to the current state of affairs for injured workers, who, through no fault of their own, find themselves out of work and without payment of benefits-simply because their employers did not have workers’ compensation insurance. In addition, these workers should not suffer because state lawmakers did not properly address funding for the UEGF.
At the same time, the proposed legislation also makes it more difficult for these injured workers to collect wage loss benefits based upon their pre-injury earnings. Previously, the amount of benefits to be paid was based upon a Workers’ Compensation Judge’s evaluation of the evidence presented in a case. If the judge found the evidence and the testimony of the injured worker credible, typically, the injured worker would receive sixty-six and two-thirds (66 2/3%) of their earnings in wage loss benefits. The proposed legislation seeks to limit a judge’s discretion in awarding these benefits by only allowing payments based upon pre-injury earnings if supported by documentary evidence such as paystubs or bank statements. If the injured worker cannot provide written evidence, then the judge would be required to limit benefits based upon the average wages for individuals in the same occupation.
Unfortunately, individuals who are working for employers without workers’ compensation insurance are often paid in cash, or not provided pay stubs for their work. We rely on judges to make difficult factual determinations, and they are capable of determining whether an injured worker is credible to testify to the amount they earned before they were injured.
Although there are aspects of Senate Bill 676 which present challenges for injured workers, it is vitally important that funding be increased for the UEGF so injured workers can receive timely payments for wage loss and medical benefits. The downsides of SB 676, while real, may be acceptable as a negotiated solution if the UEGF is able to perform its function as a safety net for Pennsylvania’s injured workers.